15/04/2022
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Caravan awnings - a buyers' guide

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So you want to enhance your living space with an awning – great idea. Here we tell you everything you need to know when buying a caravan awning.

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Words by Caravan magazine Editor, Clare Kelly

 


What is the right caravan awning for you?

Awnings are one of the simplest, quickest and most effective ways of adding extra space to your caravan when pitched up on site.

Introduction to caravan awnings

Some awnings can more than double your undercover space so they really are worth considering, especially if you tour as a family and/or have kit such as bikes, watersports gear or even just want somewhere undercover for your wet dog and walking gear to dry out. Indeed, the extra space awnings provide can offer an extra sleeping area, a dining area, a food preparation zone and a relaxation area or a combination of all of these things.

What the more modern versions have in common is they are easy to erect and dismantle, lightweight, and pack down to a compact size, making them easy to store and to transport wherever you go.

Awnings and porches are designed for use in different conditions. For example, some are extremely light in weight and speedy to build, so ideal for weekends away or for caravanners who move from campsite to campsite every few days. Others are made to withstand severe weather and can take longer to erect but will remain a solid structure for weeks or even months; some can even be pitched for an entire season.

What do you want your caravan awning to provide?

Before you start your search, ask yourself what you plan to use it for. Are you going to be dining in the awning? If so, you need enough space for a table plus chairs for everyone. Do you want to shelter cycles or a pram in the awning? Does the dog need its own area? Do you need somewhere to put the barbecue when it has cooled or are you simply looking for extra sleeping space?

Sam Maidment from Outdoor Revolution advises,

 

Also ask yourself, is it for touring or static use, on the Continent or in the UK? Then visit your awning dealer with your caravan's specifications and dimensions in your hand and, ideally, the measurements between windows and doors so you know where the awning will sit against the caravan.

Once you have determined what your caravan awning will be used for then you can decide how large and sophisticated the awning needs to be. This will then determine how much you are likely to need to spend.

How much should you spend on a caravan awning?

Awnings are not an everyday purchase – they can be a significant investment. If your awning is going to be used almost every weekend, then it’s worth investing in a top-quality model. If you go for a luxury full awning, for example, you’d be looking at upwards of £2,500, depending on the length of your caravan.

At the opposite end of the price spectrum, you can find lightweight, simple porches for as little as £150 for a basic sun canopy. In between those prices is a vast choice and you’ll soon discover there’s an awning or porch to suit every budget and every requirement.


What are the different types of caravan awnings?

There is a variety of caravan awnings on the market, all of which have their unique USP and provide a specific solution. The main differences are the size and intended function, as well as how they are erected and supported.

The first choice is whether to go for a full-sized awning, which runs the whole length of your caravan, or a porch, which is generally much smaller than a full awning. If you are opting for a full awning, then consider that there are seasonal and touring sub-categories.

Finally, there is a canopy awning type, which attaches to your caravan but has no sides, just a roof.

Sam Maidment from Outdoor Revolution says,

 

Seasonal would be for permanent pitches or extended periods of use, they tend to be heavier-duty to endure extended periods of UV and weather exposure. Touring awnings tend to be lighter-weight to allow for quick and easy pitching and packing down. Of course, within these sub-categories are many variations in specification and design to accommodate individual budgets and requirements.

#1 Full caravan awnings

Full awnings give you maximum space, so they’re ideal for holidays where you are pitched up at the same site for more than just a few days, as well as for permanent pitches. They take longer to construct than porches, but that’s worthwhile when you’re staying for a week or more.

Sam Maidment from Outdoor Revolution says,

 

Full awnings fit the full length of a caravan from bottom front to bottom rear and are available in many different lengths to accommodate all lengths of caravan.

A full awning can more than double your living space, as they project from the side of the caravan by between 2m and 3.5m.

The measurement of full awnings is expressed in centimetres, and what you need depends on the length of your caravan. You need to know your rail length – this is the length of the awning rail that you will see running along the caravan on the side where the door is located.

Some awning manufacturers have size guides on their websites – just type in the make, model and year of your caravan and up comes the size you need. Depending on the model, full-sized awnings can be heavy to handle and transport, which will affect your payload and therefore what else you can carry. If you want to tow with the awning in your caravan, its weight must be subtracted from your payload. Some seasonal full awnings can weigh 50kg but weights have dropped and now you can get full-sized touring awnings weighing less than half of this.

Sam Maidment from Outdoor Revolution says,

 

Our heaviest awning is just 28.8kg, and our lightest is only 9.7kg.

These are both inflatable porch awnings for touring, so seasonal, full-poled awnings will be much heavier. When pitching, though, panels can be removed to make lifting the canvas a lot more manageable.

Whatever the weight, first check your payload allowance before packing it into your caravan.

Sam Maidment from Outdoor Revolution says,

 

All awnings are designed knowing pack size is a key factor in consumer choice so none will be too big or too heavy,”

But, of course, some are specifically designed to offer a small and manageable pack size.

#2 Caravan porch awnings

Porch awnings are quicker to construct and lighter to transport. A generalisation would be that porches are always smaller than full awnings, although some porches can be nearly as large as full awnings.

Porch awnings create a smaller porch area; they are available in fewer sizes but are more universally fitting as they do not cover the full length of the caravan.

The downside is that you don’t have as much space as with a full awning but they suit many caravanners well and the space deficit is outweighed by their lightweight structure, ease of installing and disassembling and their lower cost.

#3 Caravan canopies

Canopies are easy and quick to erect, can stretch the full width of your caravan and can also be permanently fitted so it is just a question of unwinding it for instant cover from the sun or rain.

The downsides are they have no sides so offer no wind protection or privacy and, talking of wind, they can be damaged by strong winds so need to be wound back in should the weather turn too bad. Some canopies can have sides attached to them, making them similar to a full-sized awning.

#4 Inflatable air awnings

The invention of air technology in awning construction has revolutionised the market and has provided buyers with a new breed of porches that are speedy and easy to construct. The principle behind air awnings is a system of pipework, which you inflate using an upright pump. It’s easy and very quick. If you’d rather let battery power do the inflation for you, just buy a 12V pump.

Sam Maidment from Outdoor Revolution says,

 

Across all categories, inflatable air awnings are becoming more and more popular as they provide a quick and simple solution to pitching what can traditionally be a fairly tricky structure to erect,

The latest innovation with air awnings is single-point inflation where all the air tubes are linked together so that the awning is inflated as one piece.

Sam says,

 

These are ideal if you have an electric pump as you just plug it in, set the psi, and leave it to inflate.


Awning frames and supports

There are two main types of awning – here's how they work.

 
Air or pole supports for your caravan awning?

Awnings are supported on one side by the caravan itself and then by either poles or inflatable air supports. Awning frames come in four types: steel, aluminium, fibreglass and air. With many awnings on the market you get the option to choose your preferred frame material to suit the use to which you’ll be putting your awning or porch.

Steel awning supports

Steel is a good option if you are planning to leave your awning up for a lengthy period of time, in varying weather conditions. For example, if your caravan is sited for a whole season on the same pitch.

Weight isn’t usually a consideration when you’re only transporting your awning to and from a campsite at the start and end of a season. Sometimes you may need additional steel poles for year-round pitching so it remains stable in poor weather when you are not there.

Aluminium and fibreglass awning supports

Aluminium and fibreglass awning supports are lighter-weight options, suitable for touring, when the weight of your awning is a more important consideration in relation to your payload.

When it comes to erecting the awning, both aluminium and fibreglass frames are easier to handle, because each pole is lighter than steel. Aluminium and fibreglass also weather better.


Awning fabrics

Awning fabrics are a critical factor when buying. You want something that dries quickly after rain, that is protected against damaging UV light, that is tough enough to withstand strong winds and that is both breathable and provides a degree of insulation.

Frequent users should invest in a better, more expensive awning which, typically, will be built to last. However, ocasional users may struggle to justify such a major expense. Lightweight polyester has some advantages. It’s quick to dry after rain and light in weight to handle when you’re constructing and packing it away. They’re less expensive than acrylic options. Within this sector, there’s a considerable variation regarding thickness and density of weave, tautness and weight. Expensive, high-quality acrylic awnings are made to last many years. They look more taut and rigid than lighter-weight fabrics.

In the acrylic sector, there’s an interesting fabric: fibre-dyed material, also called solution-dyed. In the manufacturing process, the fibres that make up the woven fabric are dyed before they are made into fabric. This fabric is more resistant to the effects of UV light than fabric that has been dyed after it has been made into yarn.

In all cases, try to look for models that have weather protection that provides additional protection against rain and damage from sunlight.


Pitching your awning

Before buying, be aware of just how heavy and easy or difficult an awning is to erect, especially on a gusty day or if you have no helpers.

Sam Maidment from Outdoor Revolution says,

 

Lightweight inflatable porch awnings are very simple to pitch and one person can definitely do it. Depending on the user’s competence, all awnings can be pitched by one person, but campsites are very friendly places and, if someone is seen to be struggling, there will soon be fellow caravanners queuing up to offer assistance.

Erecting and dismantling an awning is perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of caravanning for a first-timer. This is where air awnings come into their own, especially the latest single-point inflation models. Remember you’re on holiday so want any stress kept to a minimum!


Caravan awning accessories

Once you have decided what awning is right for your caravan, there are the extras to consider. Don’t worry about the basics needed to erect the awning – they should come with the awning itself.

Well, almost everything you need to erect the awning should be supplied, as Sam explains,

 

Most awnings come supplied with everything required such as pegs, guyropes, storm straps, curtains, draught skirt, pump (if required), but rarely a mallet!

But what is supplied may not suit your needs; for example, pegs suited to the ground you intend to pitch on. Sam continues:

 

Some people like to buy hard ground pegs for hardstanding pitches, as these tend to not be included. Additionally, things like breathable flooring, rear pad poles and electric air pumps are also optional extras. But, once the awning is set up, it’s just up to the user what they choose to fill it with.

And the list of those optional extras can be lengthy:

  • Lighting
    Go for LED lights.
  • Carpets, flooring and groundsheets
    These all add more comfort, warmth and practicality to the inside of the awning.
  • Heating
    If you’re a year-round caravanner or even like to pitch up out of season, a safe awning heater can be a great investment for you.
  • Inner tents, privacy rooms and annexes
    These are all available to make the space inside your awning work better for you and your needs.
  • Pump for inflatable air awnings
    An essential and there are both manual pumps and electric pumps available today.
  • Roof liners
    Can add extra insulating properties as well as extra protection.
  • Additional tent pegs
    An essential for many, especially if you are not sure of the type of pitch you’re getting.
  • Storm straps
    Are essential for seasonal awnings and preferable for those who pitch up when the weather is not the calm, glorious sunny days we all hope for when away.
  • Cleaners
    Another essential to keep your awning in the best condition for years to come.

Top tips for your caravan awnings

  1. Ensure your awning is packed away dry. If it’s wet when you take it down, you should unpack it to dry and air as soon as you get home to keep it in good condition.
  2. A roll of duct tape can be used to make temporary repairs to awning fabric. But it is only a temporary fix – get it repaired before it gets any worse.
  3. Check whether you will be charged extra for an awning by a campsite. Most do not but check when booking.


Featured awning manufacturers

Ready to make your choice? We've got some ideas to suit your lifestyle.

Vango

Vango Tuscany Air 500 Elements ProShield

Tuscany Air 500 Elements ProShield

(Photo courtesy of Vango)

The AirBeam system used by Vango has been around for 10 years and this awning features the AirBeam S.I Pro – a single-point inflation for quick and easy erection. This gives you more time to enjoy your holiday while the AirSpeed valve ensures deflation is quick, too.

To keep draughts out, the Seal System will ensure a tight seal, keeping you warm and cosy, and the vista-style front window allows for maximum light and the opportunity to make the most of the view whatever the weather. This is a durable awning incorporating lots of trademark Vango features including Elements ProShield fabric and ColourLok technology to retain colour for years to come.

Price: £1,595

vango.co.uk

Vango Balletto Air

Balletto Air

(Photo courtesy of Vango)

The Balletto Air range suits the needs of any caravanner. It’s spacious while still being lightweight thanks to the new Elements 150 fabric. This makes the Balletto Air ideal for family holidays. The large Diamond Clear windows keep the living area bright and airy while an oversized carry bag makes packing away easy.

Additional space can be created for storage or guests with the addition of the Tuscany Annex. These awnings also include a draught skirt, wheelarch covers and the Vango Draught Seal System.

Price: From £720

vango.co.uk

Outdoor Revolution

Outdoor Revolution - Sportline Air 400

Sportline Air 400

(Photo courtesy of Outdoor Revolution)

This is a lightweight inflatable awning that can be erected in minutes thanks to its single inflation point. Made from sturdy 280HDE polyester fabric, it’s perfectly manageable to pack and transport so no need to spend hours wrestling it back into its bag.

There’s an option to purchase an annexe, too, that can be zipped onto either side of the awning, providing a further bedroom – perfect if you’ve got older children who require their own space.

Price: £749

outdoor-revolution.com

Outdoor Revolution - Eclipse Pro 380

Eclipse Pro 380

(Photo courtesy of Outdoor Revolution)

The Eclipse Pro 380 is a good option for larger families who want a big awning to spread out into. Made from Pro 600HD canvas material, it has three front door panels for maximum flexibility.

You can purchase an optional mesh panel to create privacy and protect from pesky insects while still allowing air to flow freely throughout. If you’re looking for an awning that feels more like a conservatory, this would be an ideal choice.

Price: £1,049

outdoor-revolution.com

Isabella

Isabella - Air Y Canopy

Air Y Canopy

(Photo courtesy of Isabella)

This is a really unusual offering for those who prefer a sun canopy rather than a typical awning. It’s made from Isacryl which is a lightweight, dyed material that can withstand the ageing process, meaning it retains its colour for longer. The window section allows for better views and the double beading of 5.7mm and 7.5mm makes it suitable for both caravans and motorhomes.

The high-performance hand pump with pressure release valve makes erecting and deflating super easy and fast. To keep in its best condition, you can vacuum or brush off dust when dry and wipe with a damp cloth.

Price: £875

isabella.net

Isabella Ambassador Dawn

Isabella Ambassador Dawn

(Photo courtesy of Isabella)

This Isabella is an iconic, traditional steel-poled awning (lightweight carbon-fibre poles are optionally available), so it’s good for use on seasonal pitches in year-round weather. It's available in a standard depth of 2.5m, and it comes in various heights and widths. The brand also offers an alteration service, so you won’t necessarily have to buy a new awning when you buy a new caravan.

The Ambassador Dawn has large, panelled panorama windows in the front, a mosquito net panel in both sides and is made of Isacryl, providing a pleasant indoor climate.

Price: £1,996

isabella.net

Coleman

Coleman - Event Shelter Performance L

Event Shelter Performance L

(Photo courtesy of Coleman)

New for 2022, the Event Shelter Performance L is a complete shelter set, including one event shelter, three sunwalls and one sunwall with a door, all in one wheeled carry bag. A steel-poled event shelter with an aerodynamic and durable design, this is made to last. Protection against the elements is a priority, shown by the 3,000mm hydrostatic head and taped seams, the well-thought-out design of the roof ventilation which prevents the structure from lifting in gusts of wind and the use of storm straps and multiple guying points for securely pegging into the ground.

The roof ventilation also includes clear windows, allowing light and slight airflow in even when all four sunwalls are attached and zipped up. A silver lining on the flysheet reduces the temperature under the shelter on a hot day and SPF 50 sun and UV protection adds peace of mind.

Price: £349

coleman.eu/uk


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